The Challenges of Repairing Matte (Flat) Paint

Matte paint provides a few unique challenges. To create a matte finish, you need to create a perfectly consistent, uneven finish (I know, that sounds weird). This is contrary to the perfectly smooth finish that you try to achieve to create a gloss finish. Imagine gloss clear coat being a flat cement freeway surface. A matte paint finish would be a gravel road. Even though the overall road is “smooth”, the different peaks and valleys of each pebble reflect the light in an infinite number of different direction which diffuse and create the matte finish.

The unique challenge with matte finishes in the detail world is that there are incredibly few options for repairing matte paint. If you were to polish a matte paint surface, it will “smooth” out those gravel pebbles, making the surface more like that smooth cement freeway, which results in a glossy area of the matte finish. Once it’s done the damage is permanent.

This means that if a bug splatter or bird dropping stays on the paint too long and etches it, it’s permanent. If the paint gets water spots on it and they aren’t removed in time, permanent. If someone accidentally scratches the car in the parking lot, permanent. The issue is two-fold as well. Because there are an infinite number of shades between matte/satin/gloss, any time a body shop tries to repair a panel, it’s nearly impossible to perfectly match the paint on the surrounding panels.

Because of all these challenges, this post SEMA truck proved to be a uniquely difficult vehicle to repair. It had be contaminated by some road paint that had slung onto the truck, and the paint had dried.

Even though we’ve been detailing for years, I was nervous about this truck. There was dried road paint on not only the paint itself, but also the fabric fender liners, the plastic and trim of the mirrors, and even the chrom and gloss vinyl graphics. We couldn’t do anything to “mess” it up, as there are no “second chances” with matte paint, and I wasn’t in the mood to have to repaint a customer’s entire truck.

After hours of dwelling the paint in super gentle chemical solvent to help loosen the road paint, we were able to individually “pick” each single drop of road paint from the exterior by using a plastic razor blade specially designed for auto body use. Needless to say this was a tedious process.

After the truck was completely decontaminated, the customer opted to have the entire under chassis detailed. This took hours of meticulous cleaning, degreasing, and polishing as the chassis hadn’t been attended to in years. Surface rust was beginning to develop on some of the chrome parts, but luckily we were able to strip most of it before it progressed further.

Many parts were powdercoated a candy apple green who’s finish was hiding under miles of road use.

Corrosion on the chrome took a lot of effort to restore:

The end result was pretty stunning:

The interior then received a full detail as well as applying some paint protection to the exterior. For the exterior paint, we applied a matte-specific paint sealant since a traditional “wax” or glaze will create a blotchy satin or gloss finish. The truck looked stunning afterwards.

So in summary, we’ve learned about all the potential pit falls of having a matte paint job on your car, but what if you still want that cool look that a matte finish provides? Personally, I’d recommend a vinyl wrap. This process will protect the factory paint while adding a customizable top coat of vinyl on your vehicle. The biggest advantage is quite simply that if you ever damage a panel with a bird dropping, tree sap, water spots, or deep scratch, that individual panel can have it’s vinyl wrap replaced and it will look new again at a dramatically reduced price vs. trying to match the paint at an auto body shop.

You can learn more about vehicle wraps here: